Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is the latest title by developers Fatshark. While famous for the fantastic Warhammer: Vermintide titles and Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West, can they bring their multiplayer magic to the dark reaches of space? Strap in recruit, and praise the emperor.
Now I’ll be upfront and say that despite my enjoyment of many Warhammer 40k video games, I’ve never played the physical game. I haven’t read any of the books either. I’ve never found that jumping-in point to do so, but it’s never been detrimental to my enjoyment of any of the video games, ranging back from the first time I played Space Hulk on the original Playstation.
You Fools! It’s Chaos!
The story sees your created character in jail before it all goes a bit wrong; You soon find yourself besieged by the forces of Chaos. Events happen and you manage to impress your captor so much that they want your help. They have you join a squad tasked with investigating a potential Chaos infiltration in the city of Tertium.
Considering how instantly the narrative started to fly over my head, I can only assume there is a lot here for fans of the Warhammer 40k lore. I did see things I recognized from previous titles such as the faction from Warhammer 40k: Mechanicus and plenty of mention of the Emperor God.
While the fanservice flew over my head, people I know who are much more invested in the lore than I are enjoying what this is bringing to the table. For those less interested, the narrative is fully skippable. Even clueless scrubs like Moi can gaze at the beautifully done cutscenes and pretend we know what the technobabble is all about!
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide also has a constantly evolving narrative much in the style of a Live Service title. It seems like every time I’ve logged on to the game there has been more and more content added in terms of levels, narrative, and items. I feel it would be rather remiss of me to try and lock down a definitive score on the narrative, as it’s currently ongoing unlike titles such as Marvel: Avengers which had a campaign story and some rather weak additions to follow.
Warhammer 4 Darktide
Much like the developer’s previous forays into the franchise, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is what I would describe as a Horde Survival title. If you’ve played Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood, you’ve got the idea. It’s a first-person shooter with a heavy focus on crowd control, grinding out missions for resources and XP, and features a constantly rotating set of missions rather than one linear route through its story.
Aside from the first tutorial mission, each level puts you in a team with another 3 players. While you can play with bots, as always it isn’t the ideal way to experience a title. There’s nothing worse than when Chaos is beating you down and the computer is being as helpful as a bread knife to a Space Marine!
Prepare for Invasion!
After the tutorial stage, you are thrust into an impressive-looking hub area which is your base of operations. As you complete more missions, not only your level but how much of this hub world is open to you increases.
This is where you can buy new cosmetics for your character, buy and upgrade weapons, and talk to characters to expand the narrative. There’s even a rather impressive training mode to help you to get the most out of your character and their abilities. This section is all in the third person and does show off the level of detail you’ll be dealing with when you eventually land in the City and crack some skulls.
Before that though, you need to create a character. The character creation offers you 4 archetypes for you to tango with. Sharpshooter is the ranged expert, Psyker is your mage, Ogryn is your big tank of the team and Zealot is your melee expert. While you can create any of these, you cannot switch mid-campaign. Each character starts fresh, so it’s wise to play a little bit of all of them before committing.
Leveling up lets you further customize your active and passive abilities and make purchases to fully kit out your character to the specs you want. I did find that taking on the easy missions at the start made my progress a lot slower, but this could be intentional as when you take on the higher missions the difficulty jumps quite a bit.
Choose your Death
Ready to set out? You’ll need to pick a mission from the world map which all have timers as to how long they are available before they are replaced. They come with difficulty levels and modifiers attached too. On top of that, they display any objectives, the narrative reason we need to go there, and what your rewards will be for successful completion.
Generally, when you land the objectives tend to boil down to activating something in an area and surviving a horde. Sometimes this is changed up. You may be carrying batteries around to power stuff or tasked with taking down a corruption, which requires you to draw it out and kill it in waves. It’s not the most original set of objectives, but it’s diverse enough to stave away repetition, yet not overly technical for a game that has a massive focus on its combat and team play.
Fighting for Glory
The combat in Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is so meaty and visceral that it provides some of the most enjoyable first-person combat I have had in years. Headshots explode with the force of a high-velocity watermelon meeting a wall, weapons feel weighty and deadly, and the ranged weapons just feel right when playing as the Sharpshooter. Taking down the sniper units from far away and just nailing that headshot has never felt so satisfying.
You have 2 health meters to keep an eye on. One is a shield and the other is your actual health. The shield can be recharged by fighting in close proximity with your team and by getting those hands dirty in the weighty and fun melee combat. This means that you can’t just get by sitting back and picking off units one by one. Instead, you need to thrust yourself into the horde and fight alongside your team, which is easily some of the most satisfying moments you’ll experience in any mission.
Change is Chaos
Each mission you undertake has a certain degree of randomization to it, so even if you pick the same mission it won’t play out in the same way. The chaotic nature of the game is something you’ll have to embrace as you play. Things happen suddenly, such as making some progress in the mission without issue and all of a sudden a horde will be triggered. In response, perhaps you’ll hunker down to take it on, and then be besieged by Pox Hounds which pin characters down and require team assistance. Maybe instead fog will cover the stage, meaning you may only spot that sniper when it’s the bullet is pushing through your head.
The fact no mission plays out the same way engrossed me and I couldn’t wait to load up another mission just to see how it was going to play out. Rolling with the losses was just as fun as making it to extraction with my team and this is all due to the perfect mix of randomization and the absolutely addictive combat loop. Not once have I ever tired of holding down a horde in Darktide.
As Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a Live Service title, it is constantly evolving. But what is currently on offer is fantastic and is a prime example of how you can make this kind of title work rather than just trying to shoehorn a game into a Live Service model. No matter when you choose to jump into the title, you’ll be met with a plethora of things to do and constantly changing mission types.
Something so Deadly, Yet so Beautiful
Visually this is the best Warhammer 40K title I have seen, even edging out the impressive yet janky 40K shooter, Necromunda Hired Gun. While that one had its issues, the art direction and graphics for the environments certainly weren’t one of them! Darktide manages to curb stomp that with gusto having one of the strongest art directions for any modern title. Its machine meets gothic architecture, and effects are lavished on the player from some very impressive explosions to plenty of the red stuff.
The performance of the title is something I feel I have to address. This game requires one powerful rig, especially to meet recommended specs. I’m using a gaming laptop which up until some of the more recent releases laughs at everything from High to Ultra. Darktide on the other hand was quick to tell me that I didn’t meet the minimum specs and this worried me. What I am happy to say is that even though I don’t meet the “minimum”, the game still looks fantastic even on low settings. The only real issue I’ve run into with this is a slight stutter in the first minute or two of every mission. Aside from that, the game runs well and looks fantastic.
Insert Piano on Fire Gif
The music in this title is insane. Massive props to Jasper Kyd for composing this hellish mix of metal music fused with electronic and even gospel-sounding music that reacts perfectly to the action on screen. It manages to be energetic and ambient, perfectly fitting the world of Warhammer 40K, and is a perfect example of someone understanding the objective when given the job of music composer for a video game.
Voice acting is brilliant here also. The banter between the characters in the missions is a real highlight. You’ll hear plenty of arguing alongside thought-provoking comments as your rag-tag “suicide squad” talk back and forth about the events of Warhammer 40K and cast doubt on the ongoing scenario, even going as far as to question their leaders and motives.
I love Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, so much so that I continue to go back night after night and get stuck in that “1 more” loop that is a true testament to a great game. Yes, I haven’t been able to perfectly follow the narrative and I’m not playing it under the most ideal of circumstances, but I still cannot get enough of it. With that said, it’s not going to be for everyone. It is still at heart a horde, team-based shooter. The more single-player-focused gamer is going to get bored much sooner than others.
It’s the bloody marriage of the combat, the random missions, and the sheer presentation of the levels that makes Warhammer 40,000: Darktide such an easy game to recommend to anyone who enjoys shooters. It’s an essential purchase for those that “Praise The Emperor”. I love this title and the constantly evolving nature of it means that it is only going to get better!
NEON WHITE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Fatshark for a PC review code for this title.
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